Howard board unlikely to condemn farm for school

Chairwoman says process could take too long

March 21, 2000|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

The chairman of the Howard County school board said yesterday it is "extremely unlikely" that the board will condemn the Baugher family farm off New Cut Road in Ellicott City to build an elementary school.

"The bottom line is, if we had a willing seller [of a site] vs. one that had to be condemned, we would look to the willing seller," said Sandra H. French, board chairwoman. She would not say if the board had found a willing seller.

Patti Caplan, spokeswoman for Howard County schools, noted a "99.9 percent" chance the Baughers would be able to keep their land because the condemnation proceedings could take too long. The new school needs to open by August 2003.

"A condemnation takes between 18 and 24 months, and it can even run longer than that," Caplan said. "We're more pressed than that. We don't have the time to spare at this point. That's a factor here."

Caplan and French said the board is considering other sites, but they cannot discuss which ones. The board tries to keep the proceedings confidential to keep land costs down, said Sydney Cousin, associate superintendent of finance and operations for the Howard County school system.

In January, James and Joan Baugher received a letter from a lawyer representing the Howard County Board of Education that threatened to condemn their 13-acre farm if they refused to sell.

The Baughers say they have no interest in selling the land. They want to retire on it and one day pass it on to their children and grandchildren.

"There's other land," said Joan Baugher, 63. "They don't have to take our farm."

The Baugher family has farmed the land since 1922, selling home-grown fruits and vegetables at a popular produce stand, now on scenic New Cut Road in Ellicott City.

Joan Baugher said she was happy to hear that the school board probably won't condemn her farm, but she won't rest easy until she gets a letter saying the board has picked another site to build the school.

Since the story became public in February, the Baughers have received support from residents and several politicians, including Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, state Sen. Christopher J. McCabe and former state Sen. James Clark Jr.

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